Noirvember: “Laura” (1944)

The film “Laura” begins after the titular character (played by Gene Tierney in flashbacks) has already died, murdered inside her apartment, immediately setting the tone for one of the most intriguing and complex film noirs ever put on film. Her death is investigated by detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), who spends the first part of the film interviewing the people in her life. There’s Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), the newspaper columnist who jump-started Laura’s career; Laura’s fiancée Sheldon Carpenter (Vincent Price); her aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson); and her housekeeper Bessie (Dorothy Adams). Over the course of the investigation, Mark becomes increasingly obsessed with the dead woman. And then, the twist happens.

Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) gazes at Laura’s portrait

Director and producer Otto Preminger takes Vera Caspary’s complicated story—which was told from the viewpoints of several different characters—and simplifies it, creating a beautiful balance between story and style. The murder mystery itself is compelling, but it is underscored by deeper, more haunting themes, namely those of insanity and obsession. Preminger brings out the best in his actors, particularly Webb, who is almost too good for the already great material he’s given. Webb hadn’t been in a film since 1925—many were reluctant to cast him because it was well-known he was gay—but Preminger insisted. His performance is perfect, and he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

But the film’s most enduring impact on audiences is its score by Davis Raskin. Raskin composed the now famous “Laura’s Theme” over one weekend; the haunting melody is a perfect accompaniment to the film. Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics to the song, and it has since become a jazz standard, covered by numerous artists.

“Laura” is available to rent or purchase on all digital platforms. Runtime: 88 minutes.

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